Dickie and Alena King celebrated their 10th anniversary on Nov. 14. It was also the day, Maria, an 11-year-old Bulgarian girl officially became part of their family.
“That is the day I got her into my arms,” said Alena.
The Kings had planned a trip to Las Vegas for their anniversary, tickets were purchased, but when the call came notifying the Kings that the adoption had been approved, Alena was on a plane to Bulgaria to bring their new family member home.
“We [Dickie and Alena] always wanted to have a family together. From our first date we talked about it,” Alena said. “This is how I wanted to become a mother. I have always wanted to adopt a child or maybe children some day.”
The Kings already have a big family from Dickie’s previous marriages. He was married twice before and has five children and 12 grandchildren.
“I have a very close-knit family; and for me, it was more about giving a child a chance at life that they otherwise would never have. For Alena, I knew she wanted motherhood,” he said.
Alena is a Russian immigrant. When she arrived in this country, nearly 11 years ago, she spoke no English. It took her three years to become fluent in English. During her marriage to Dickie she worked outside the home holding down a full-time job in a fast-food restaurant, enrolled in college, first earning her associates degree, then her bachelor’s degree and she now holds a master’s degree in business. She currently works as a business analyst for Capital One. Excelling in all aspects of her life – wife, education, career – Alena wanted motherhood. Two years ago on the way home from dinner when Alena said she was ready to adopt, Dickie was ready, too.
The Kings began the adoption process in February, 2015. They worked with the Carolina Adoption Agency in North Carolina due to Dickie’s age. In Virginia, Dickie was too old to adopt. After selecting a program, the country they would like to adopt from, the paperwork started: financial requirements, home studies, signatures from each of Dickie’s children giving their okay with the adoption, and fingerprinting and background checks for everyone living in the household.
Dickie’s mom, Betty King, lives with them and is 92 years old. “She had to be fingerprinted five times,” Dickie said. “Because of her age, her fingerprints have nearly disappeared,” he said.
They also had to send their needs in adopting for a match-up. They wanted to adopt a child from Russia, but President Vladimir Putin had put a ban on Americans adopting Russian children so they chose Bulgaria. Alena and Dickie said they would be okay with a boy or a girl between the ages of five and 12. They wanted their child to be as healthy as he or she could be with no non-correctible disabilities.
When adopting from a developing country, once everything is completed, the dossier or report is shipped to the country and received by their social welfare department and they begin the match-up.
By this time, the Kings had a four-inch stack of papers from all the preliminary process of adoption.
“Adoption is not for sissies,” Alena said. “We know people who got bogged down with it and gave up. They get into your underwear. It is a good thing. You want to make sure the child is getting into good hands. We went through it and we are not sorry.
“We were sent a picture of a young girl named Maria, she looked to be seven or eight years old,” Alena said. “We read her report, and asked around 30 questions about Maria. About two weeks later we got a response to our questions and were asked if we would like to proceed with the adoption.”
In June, 2016, Dickie and Alena spent a week with Maria at the Mother Teresa Orphanage. “After the third day of our visit with Maria we knew we wanted to proceed [with the adoption],” said Alena.
It took several months after their visit before Maria’s paperwork was completed before she could come to live with her new family. “It was the longest wait,” she said.
During the wait the Kings saw many things the orphanage needed during their visit, especially a new stove. While entertaining friends, announcing that they would have a new family member soon, and sharing pictures of their visit with Maria, Alena asked their friends if they would like to make a donation to help the orphanage purchase a new stove.
“Alena’s quest to get the Mother Teresa Orphanage a stove would not have been possible without the generosity of our friends,” Dickie said. “Would you believe we raised over $9,000 that night. The significance of the amount computes to about $14,000 leva [exchange rate – Bulgarian currency]. We were able to do much more than ever imagined.”
The contributions permitted a total renovation of the small orphanage. The walls were painted, doors and windows replace, floors repaired, a new washer and dryer, new beds and wardrobe for all the children, new sheds, air-conditioners, and a new summer house/arbor. Ironically, the stove had been donated prior to Alena going to Bulgaria to pick up Maria.
Maria came “home” with Alena and began a new life in Chester.
“Maria is loving and respectful, and a good girl,” Dickie said. “She loves babies and older folks and we get lots of hugs and kisses. She is very helpful but she is headstrong. All her life she has made her own decisions.”
She is learning English. Alena is able to communicate due to the Russian language being similar to Bulgarian. Other than the similarities, they communicate with a translator, especially when it comes to learning the rules of the household.
“We are really blessed,” Dickie said. “The greatest concern with adoption is whether the child bonds with the family and pets. They want to make sure the child can bond as soon as possible. She has bonded really well with our family. It has really been a pleasant experience. Somehow we were put together. You can’t explain it.”
Maria started school this week as a sixth-grade student in an ESL Program at Salem Church Middle School. She is enrolled in Karate and gymnastic classes and is making friends. She does miss home and her friends at the orphanage but is able to Skype with them each day for 15 minutes at a time.
Dickie and Alena do not know a lot about Maria and her upbringing or past. “We would like to know a lot more about her but it is her story to tell,” said Alena. “She received her citizenship papers yesterday. She does not really know how big of a deal that is yet, but she will someday.”
From her translator Maria said, “My mom is a good mother and my dad is a good dad, and I’m glad that I am with them.”